When Tim called Officer Don — Don Kennedy — inviting him to be the grand marshal, Officer Don was reluctant. He recalled another parade where he was the grand marshal. Riding in a convertible he could hear people along the street asking, “Who is that man?”
But that will not happen at the Ball Ground parade.
It has been widely advertised that Officer Don will be there to see the grown-ups while Santa will be there for the children. Alumni of the Popeye Club are expected to turn out in droves.
Tim remembers when he first met Don Kennedy. Just a child, he was in line waiting to meet his hero at then Kessler’s in downtown Canton. When Officer Don shook his hand, Tim was so awed he could not say a word.
It was when Tim was working at WCHK radio that he became personally acquainted with Don Kennedy. Officer Don would call the station to talk with then manager Byron Dobbs.
If you are a member of the Popeye Club — once a member, always a member — you may remember joining in for the countdown before each cartoon began. So, when Officer Don called WCHK, Tim would lead the other employees in a countdown — five, four, three, two, one. Then Byron would get on the line.
According to Tim, becoming Officer Don was somewhat forced on Kennedy. One of the powers-that-be at WSB had seen a locally produced children’s television program when he was in New York City and decided WSB needed to have its own.
Kennedy was already working at WSB. It was a matter of “you will be Officer Don or your replacement will.”
Even though he really did not like children that well, Kennedy did like working at WSB. Once the show started, he loved being Officer Don and he loved children, too.
If you were a child between 1956 and 1970 you may have seen Officer Don and the Popeye Club. Children in the Atlanta area were seemingly glued to the family television in the afternoon watching the show.
Or, you might have been one of the lucky children celebrating your birthday on the show and selected to play one of the games like Knot Untie or Flip the Spoon. The big favorite was Ooey Gooey.
Officer Don would mix raw eggs, chocolate syrup and flour in a bag. With other bags filled with prizes any child would treasure, the Ooey Gooey bag was placed on something like a lazy Susan. A child would be blindfolded and the bags would be given a spin. Then, the child would put his hand in the bag he or she wanted.
You can imagine the reaction when children chose the Ooey Gooey bag and pulled out their fingers dripping with the raw eggs, chocolate syrup and flour mixture.
The Popeye characters were well known. Popeye the Sailor man and bad guy Bruto both vied for the affections of Olive Oyl.
Popeye always came up out on top. Orvil the Green Dragon, Sweetpea and Wimpy, who always wanted to borrow money for a hamburger and pay it back later, were other characters.
Popeye’s strength came from eating a can of spinach when he was in a tight spot. Then, he would flex his arms and his muscles would bulge.
Children would sing along with him when he sang, “I’m Popeye the Sailor Man, I’m Popeye the Sailor Man, I’m strong to the finish cause I eats me spinach, I’m Popeye the Sailor Man.”
But the Popeye Club was far from being Don Kennedy’s highest achievement. After his many years — 1956 to 1970 — as the friendly neighborhood policeman, his career continued to flourish.
As well as other successful ventures like Big Band Jump, he was one of the founders of Radio Station WKLS, aka 96 Rock. The K in the call letters is for Kennedy.
Don Kennedy has been well recognized by his peers in the broadcast industry and in 2009 he was inducted into the Georgia Radio Hall of Fame.
And he will be recognized again in the Ball Ground parade. He will be leading Santa, the 1966 Batmobile, Scooby Doo, the Falcon Cheerleaders, the Twilight Twirlers and a long line of others in the Ball Ground Christmas Parade.
No one will be asking, “Who is that man?” Tim Cavender has reminded us all that the grand marshal is Officer Don, the wonderful gentleman who was a welcome visitor in our homes many years ago.
Marguerite Cline is the former mayor of Waleska.